Voices from ITB Asia

As ITB Asia wound down in Singapore, various organizers of the event and Singaporean tourism players sounded off on the success of the event as well as looking ahead to what Asia tourism will face in an uncertain economic climate. ITB Asia had 651 exhibitors from 58 countries and territories and attracted more than 5,000 attendees. Of this number, 800 were confirmed buyers.

“This is the first ever ITB Asia,” said Raimund Hosch, CEO of Messe Berlin. “The event was three years in the making. Our goal is to create an international show on the same scale as ITB in Berlin, which had its inaugural 42 years ago.” Hosch recalls the opening of the first ITB Berlin 42 years ago, when they had 12 exhibitors from seven countries.

The impetus for creating ITB Asia was the realization that most of the buyers at ITB Berlin were from Europe. Easy air access and visa regulations made Singapore an attractive choice and Messe Berlin has a three year contract to hold successive ITB Asia events in Singapore “There are no plans to move the event to another city when the contract expires,” said Hosch.

The impact of the global financial instability on travel bookings was on attendees’ minds. “The travel industry in Asia has seen good times and bad times— it always comes back stronger after a setback,” said Dr. Martin Buck, director of Messe Berlin (Singapore). “Travel industry leaders are forward looking, positive and solutions-driven. There will certainly be urgency and a buzz around the show floor this week.”

Singapore saw some softening in inbound travel from June onwards, and August posted figures of minus 7 percent. “Obviously the situation is not good,” said Lim Neo Chian, deputy chairman and chief executive, Singapore Tourism Board. “Source markets are facing uncertain times and other countries in the region such as Hong Kong and Thailand are facing similar difficulties.” Lim compares the current crisis to past setbacks such as 9/11 and the tsunami. “We’ve seen the troughs and shallows and found these to be temporary— we recover quickly,” he said. “Even with the drop there are huge numbers of people traveling.” Lim observes that a turnaround depends on how protracted and deep the economic difficulties are. “We don’t know how deep it will be,” he said. “2008 will certainly be affected; and 2009 will probably be affected. By 2010 there will be a lift. The lift may not be as strong as in good times. We’ll see a spark— but how bright that spark will be remains to be seen”

Lim notes that Singapore’ MICE sector is very resilient, although he predicts that leisure, being discretionary, will be hit harder. “As far as business travel, you have to position yourself for the upturn,” he said. “You need to keep in touch with markets. Business travelers will still find it necessary to travel.”